A small plane that had left Slidell, Louisiana for Sarasota, Florida early Thursday morning has crashed into the Gulf of Mexico after the pilot was found to apparently be unresponsive. After repeated calls to the Florida pilot, two F-15 jets were dispatched from New Orleans to intercept the twin-engine Cessna plane before the crash. It was determined that the Cessna was flying in an erratic pattern at 28,000 feet and radio contact was unsuccessful.
The F-15 pilots witnessed the Cessna flying in continuous circles and could not raise any communications with the pilot. They also reported that the aircraft’s windows were fogged over. The craft started to go down after it apparently started to run out of fuel.
The plane hit the water just after 11 a.m. about 120 miles off the coast of Tampa.
A helicopter dispatched to the sight reported that the plane was still sitting at the surface with just the nose submerged. However, by the time a U.S. Coast Guard ship had arrived at the scene, later reported that the plane was then completely submerged and no longer visible from the surface.
The pilot, believed to have been flying solo, was identified as Peter Hertzak of Slidell, La., NBC station WSDU of New Orleans reported. It is suspected that Herzak, who was said to be an experienced pilot who kept a well-maintained plane, may have suffered a heart attack during his flight.
A recovery effort is underway.